There are a total of 36 identified species of rattlesnakes, and they can be found in most U.S. states. Based on my findings, 14 of these species of rattlesnakes can be found in the state of Arizona. That’s more rattlesnake species than any other state. Which leads us to the topic of this article, the rattlesnakes in Arizona.
Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes in the viper family, and are only found in the Americas. They get their name from the “rattles” they have on the ends of their tails.
These rattles are actually made up of sections keratin (what our finger nails are made of) spaced apart just right so that when they shake the end of their tails, you get the rattle sound that warns off predators.
14 types of rattlesnakes in Arizona
The 14 species of rattlesnakes found in Arizona are the desert massasauga rattlesnake, mohave rattlesnake, sidewinder rattlesnake, grand canyon rattlesnake, Arizona black rattlesnake, great basin rattlesnake, tiger rattlesnake, prairie rattlesnake, northern blacktail rattlesnake, Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, southwestern speckled rattlesnake, western diamondback rattlesnake, twin-spotted rattlesnake, and the banded rock rattlesnake.
Now let’s take a closer look at the rattlesnakes of Arizona.
1. Desert massasauga rattlesnake
Scientific name: Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii
Adult length: 2 feet
There are 3 subspecies of the massasauga rattlesnake: the eastern, western, and desert massasauga. However only the desert massasauga is found in Arizona, and only in a portion of the Southeastern corner of the state. These small rattlesnakes are usually light gray with brown blotches, and are listed as protected in Arizona.
2. Mohave rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus scutulatus
Adult length: 3-5 feet
The mohave rattlesnake is a medium to large sized rattlesnake that inhabits much of the semi-desert grasslands and scrublands that exist in Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico, West Texas, and down in Mexico. This snake is widely distributed within its range and is often thought to be more dangerous than other species on this list due to the amount of venom they produce and deliver in a bite.
You can learn more about the mohave rattlesnake here.
3. Sidewinder rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus cerastes
Adult length: 18-36 inches
Sidewinder rattlesnakes are most common in the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, southwest and central parts of the state. Though there are some populations in the Mohave Desert to the west and northwest.
Sidewinders are medium-sized snakes with thick bodies that are also known as horned rattlesnakes. Scientists aren’t 100% sure why these snakes have horns above their eyes, but we can be sure that the horns are somehow helping this species survive life in the desert. Compared to other rattlesnakes, the toxicity of the sidewinder’s venom is considered weak or moderate. In fact, according to some sources the sidewinder has the least effective venom of any species of rattlesnake.
4. Grand Canyon rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus oreganus abyssus
Adult length: 2-5 feet
This species is only found in the Grand Canyon in central and Northwestern Arizona, how you may find some in portions of extreme southern Utah. They can grow up to 5 feet in length in some rare cases, meaning this snake can get quite large. Grand Canyon rattlesnakes are also referred to as Grand Canyon pink rattlesnakes because of their light coloring.Their habitat includes grasslands, scrublands, great basin desert, and the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
5. Arizona black rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus cerberus
Adult length: 2-4 feet
The Arizona black rattlesnake is only found in central Arizona and areas of extreme wester New Mexico. As the name suggests they are almost completely black in color, but do have light rings along the length of their bodies. While they aren’t the biggest rattlesnakes in Arizona, at 4 feet in length they are formidable. It’s also said they they can deliver a lot of powerful venom in one bite, so steer clear!
6. Great basin rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus lutosus
Adult length: 2-4 feet
Great basin rattlesnakes are more common to the north in states like Utah, Nevada, California, and even into the Pacific Northwest. However, you can find some of these medium sized rattlers in far Northwest Arizona. Like all other rattlesnakes, great basin rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. Look for great basin rattlesnakes within their range on rocky hillsides, deserts, or grassy plains.
7. Tiger rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus tigris
Adult length: 18-36 inches
The tiger rattlesnake is one of the smallest rattlesnakes in Arizona and in the United States. They’re most common in areas of Central Arizona and south into Mexico, some may be found in Southwestern New Mexico. Because they are smaller snakes, tiger rattlesnakes do not deliver as much venom in a bit as something like a western diamondback. However, a tiger rattlesnake’s venom is said to be the third most toxic snake venom in the Western Hemisphere.
8. Northern blacktail rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus molossus
Adult length: 2-4 feet
The blacktail rattlesnake is common throughout Arizona, east into Texas, and south into Mexico. From the map below you can see they aren’t as common in northeastern parts of the state. Blacktail rattlesnakes typically live in grasslands, deserts, and rocky areas. Their venom is thought to be about 2/3 the strength of western diamondback’s, making it unlikely that a blacktail rattlesnake bite would be fatal.
You may see blacktail rattlesnakes in a few different color patterns, including:
- yellow to reddish-brown and black
Learn more about the northern blacktail rattlesnake here.
9. Prairie rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus viridis
Adult length: 3-4 feet
Prairie rattlesnakes are medium-sized snakes that are sometimes referred to as western rattlesnakes or great plains rattlesnakes. The hopi rattlesnake is a subspecies of the prairie rattlesnake and is found in Northeastern Arizona. The Hopi Native Americans are a tribe of people that have lived in the Northeastern corner of Arizona for hundreds of years. The Hopi rattlesnake is intertwined in the culture and was used in rain dances.
Prairie rattlesnakes are common throughout the plains region of the United States, and are known for having powerful venom.
10. Ridge-nosed rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus willardi willardi
Adult length: 18-30 inches
The Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake is a small rattler, reaching only around 2 feet as adults. This species has actually been the Arizona state reptile since 1986, even though they are only found in a small area south of Tucson near the Mexican border.
There are 5 subspecies of ridge-nosed rattlesnakes, all have prominent ridges along the sides of their noses. The New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake is the only subspecies that is endangered. The other 4, including the Arizona ridge-nosed, are secure in their populations. They are also the most recently discovered types of rattlesnakes.
11. Southwestern speckled rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus
Adult length: 24-30 inches
These small rattlesnakes are found in several western U.S. states, they’re most common in Western Arizona. Speckled rattlesnakes are mostly nocturnal and found on rocky hillsides or canyons. They feed primarily on small birds, reptiles, and mammals. There have been few reports of bites from these snakes, and no deaths. They are venomous put vipers though and you should give it a wide berth if you should come across one.
12. Western diamondback rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus atrox
Adult length: 4-6 feet
The western diamondback is the largest of all rattlesnakes in Arizona reaching 6 feet or more in length in some cases. They are fairly widespread and aren’t too picky about their habitat. You’ll often see these large rattlers in deserts, plains, forests, and rocky hillsides. The toxicity level of their venom is actually believed to be lower than other species on this list, however because of their large size they are able to deliver high doses making them quite dangerous.
13. Twin-spotted rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus pricei
Adult length: 18-24 inches
There are 2 subspecies of the twin spotted rattlesnake, an eastern and western. The western twin-spotted rattlesnake can only be found in Arizona and south into Mexico, the eastern subspecies is only found in southeastern Mexico. Both have a limited range overall, and the western twin-spotted has a very limited range in Arizona, though they are not listed as endangered.
Look for these guys on rocky slopes, brushy hillsides, in coniferous forests, and other areas where there is plenty of prey. This viper is more active during the day while it’s looking for lizards and small mammals to eat. Their venom is highly toxic, but they are only able to deliver small amounts of it because of their size.
14. Banded rock rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus lepidus klauberi
Adult length: 18-30 inches
The banded rock rattlesnake is a subspecies of the rock rattlesnake that is only found in the southeast corner of Arizona. This subspecies of rock rattlesnake is actually common in the exotic pet trade because of their docile and non-aggressive nature. They can also be seen on display at zoos and other wildlife facilities. Rock rattlesnakes rely heavily on their camouflage for protection, and will even avoid using their rattle unless provoked.
Rattlesnakes in Arizona Q&A
How common are rattlesnakes in Arizona?
As we learned, there are as many as 14 confirmed species of rattlesnakes in the state of Arizona. With most of the state providing a perfect habitat for rattlesnakes, they’re more common in Arizona than any other state.
Where do rattlesnakes live in Arizona?
Several of the species of rattlesnakes found in Arizona only live in small portions of the state, but there are different species found in every part of the state. The Sonoran and Mohave Deserts are havens for rattlesnakes in the state of Arizona.
When are rattlesnakes most active in Arizona?
If you read about some of the species in this list, then you may have noticed that some are nocturnal and some are diurnal. With that in mind, I’ll say this about most species.
Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation between March and April and are generally most active during the daytime, when it’s between 80 and 90 degrees.
Is it legal to kill a rattlesnake in Arizona?
With a valid hunting license it is legal to hunt rattlesnakes in the state of Arizona. Though some species, like the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnakes, are protected by state law. So please check with the local fish and wildlife service before you kill any wildlife.